As my conversation with game show production veteran Michael Whyte continues, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to ask him about the current state of game shows on Australian television, and the outlook for their future…
SH: Currently on Australian TV, there does seem to be a real saturation of cooking shows and renovating shows. Obviously that’s something that works, and so everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. What do you think about Free-To-Air versus Pay-TV? Are Pay-TV and Netflix and all the other entertainment providers making an impact on quiz and game shows?
MW: On quiz and game shows? They are making a dent on everything; you only have to look to your children. I’ve got a 22-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 9-year-old, and the 22-year-old and 18-year-old don’t watch Free-To-Air television. They program their own. They watch whatever they want, and they’ll watch it on whatever device they want to watch it on. They pick and choose but they don’t watch Free To Air television. Ultimately, Free-To-Air, you would think, would come down to News and Sports.
SH: It’s interesting you should say that. The other week I was watching Media Watch, and there was some media analyst who said for Free-To-Air television, the future is News, Sports and Reality – those big, expensive reality shows that cable can’t afford to make, like The Voice and so on.
MW: I think that’s absolutely right. It is. I mean, what do you watch on TV?
SH: I watch Media Watch ! I watch American comedies and English comedies and Game of Thrones. I don’t watch the news; I get the news elsewhere. And I’m not a sports fan. I must admit with my daughter Lily, who’s also 9, we watched The Great Australian Spelling Bee and she loves it, and I think it is quite nice entertainment.
MW: My daughter will watch selected cartoons, all Foxtel stuff. She’ll also watch anything to do with animals. All the National Geographic and Discovery channels are pretty much what we watch. Whereas my wife would watch on her iPad Orange is the New Black whenever she feels like, and catch up with Breaking Bad and try and finish that series.
SH: What about you? What are your viewing habits?
MW: I monitor shows that I’m involved in, so I watch those. I make sure the News is on, to try and get my 9-year-old to discuss what’s going on, and try and get my 18-year-old and my 22-year-old involved in the News, because they don’t – on purpose – read newspapers. So if you asked them a question about current events, they wouldn’t know. We always used to watch the News when we were kids. It was always on and we would always find out what was going on.
SH: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to work behind the scenes on games shows or quiz shows and try to get into the industry?
MW: It’s so difficult these days. I think they’re really looking for people who have a broad experience and some sort of university degree, because that’s meant that they’ve had to put their head down at some stage and study hard. The days of working your way up from the bottom, I think, have gone. On our crew for example, out at Docklands on Millionaire Hot Seat, they’re 90% freelance. So they go from job to job and there’s no one training up.
SH: I guess there are media courses at tertiary institutions. I would imagine that would be a prerequisite if you wanted to get a foot in the door…
MW: Sometimes. Also sometimes those courses are run by people who didn’t make it in the industry.
SH: “Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach”?
MW: Mm. I remember years ago, at Channel 9, a group of media students coming in and standing in the Control Room. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Bendigo Street Control Room, but it’s pretty straightforward. There’s the Control Room there, Audio on the left, behind those doors, and on the right you’ve got lighting and your CCU (Camera Control Unit) and all your technical area. And this teacher has walked in with his media students and said “Okay! Right here is the mixing desk; that’s where the director cuts camera and rolls in videotapes and things… and to the left, (he’s pointing to the audio room), that’s lighting; that’s where the lighting happens! And over there on the right, that’s communications.”
SH: Right, okay… Awkward.
MW: And I said “Whoa there – I’ll walk you through and let the people who are pushing the buttons tell you what they do and then you can work it out”. He had no idea.
So if you’re looking for a career in the game show industry, I’m sorry we haven’t painted a rosier picture…
Sorry about that. I promise next week’s instalment will definitely be more upbeat. See you next Tuesday!